Mary is known by many titles and depicted in a variety of ways. Today’s feast, the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, offers us an image of a woman filled with sorrow, a grieving mother. This title reminds us that she was no stranger to suffering. Indeed, the Church contemplates seven sorrows she endured, which Pope Francis described in a homily in April 2020:
“The first, just forty days after the birth of Jesus, is Simeon's prophecy that speaks of a sword that will pierce her heart (see Lk 2:35). The second sorrow is the flight to Egypt to save her Son's life (see Mt 2:13-23). The third sorrow, those three days of anguish when the boy remained in the temple (see Lk 2:41-50). The fourth sorrow, when Our Lady meets Jesus on the way to Calvary (see Jn 19:25). The fifth sorrow of Our Lady is the death of Jesus, seeing her Son there, crucified, naked, dying. The sixth sorrow, Jesus’ descent from the cross, dead, when she takes Him in her arms as she held Him in her arms more than thirty years before in Bethlehem. The seventh sorrow is Jesus’ burial. Thus, Christian piety follows this path of Our Lady who accompanies Jesus.”
Blessed Basil Moreau, who founded the Congregation of Holy Cross and dedicated the congregation to the patronage of Our Lady of Sorrows, said of her, “It is (in her sorrows) that we shall see to what extent she has loved us! She stood at the foot of the cross, among the executioners and soldiers, so close to her dying Son that no detail of his death could escape her. ‘There by the cross of Jesus stood Mary his mother’ (Jn 19:25). What did she do in this circumstance, so painful for her heart, being minister before the altar on which the sacrifice of our redemption was accomplished?”
Though it must have been unbearable to behold the abuse and brutal murder of her Son, Mary did not turn away. She remained as close as possible to her Son and participated in Christ’s gift of self.
When I am confronted with sorrow—either my own or that of others—I am sorely tempted to simply look away, to live in denial or numbness, or to let myself be distracted by anything else. Working through grief, facing injustice, embracing the cross is incredibly difficult. “But if we shirk the cross, gone too will be our hope. It is in fidelity to what we once pledged that we will find the dying and the rising equally assured” (Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross, 8:121).
Truly, the Christian life calls us not to look away but rather to have ‘a heart which sees’. This heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly” (Deus Caritas Est, 30). Allowing ourselves to be moved by suffering, acting and trusting that suffering can and will be transfigured by God’s grace is not weakness. In fact, as Pope Francis described in his Lenten message for 2015, “Anyone who wishes to be merciful must have a strong and steadfast heart, closed to the tempter but open to God. A heart which lets itself be pierced by the Spirit so as to bring love along the roads that lead to our brothers and sisters.” When we remain as close as possible to Christ and allow our hearts to see as Mary did, we find new strength. In the pierced heart of the Sorrowful Virgin, we find consolation, refuge, and tenderness. We find a mother who can truly empathize, who embraces our wounds with her gentle touch, just as she embraced the bruised and broken body of her Son.
May our tears mingled with Mary’s be a worthy offering of love. May we, like Mary, cultivate a heart that sees, a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, and bears pain and sorrow well, “with strength, with tears” (Pope Francis, homily, April 2020).
May we make our own the words of today’s sequence (also known as the Stabat Mater and used frequently in the recitation of the Stations of the Cross):
O sweet Mother! font of love,
Touch my spirit from above,
Make my heart with yours accord.
Make me feel as you have felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ, my Lord.